Research on self-determination in physical education: key findings and proposals for future research

Lynn Van den Berghe, Maarten Vansteenkiste, Greet Cardon, David Kirk, Leen Haerens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

173 Citations (Scopus)
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During the last 30 years, several theories of motivation have generated insights into the motives underlying learners' behavior in physical education. Self-determination theory (SDT), a general theory on social development and motivation, has enjoyed increasing popularity in physical education research during the past decade. SDT states that for students to be optimally motivated for physical education, it is critical to support the satisfaction of their innate, psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness by being autonomy-supportive, by structuring the environment, and by creating a warm and solid relationship with the students. Our goal was to provide a critical review of 74 SDT-grounded peer-reviewed studies in the field of physical education, to identify research gaps, and to provide suggestions for moving this line of research forward by discussing how insights from a pedagogical view can contribute to the development of SDT-based research. The included studies confirmed the motivational sequence as proposed by SDT. It was revealed that future research can be of extra value if (a) combinations of the three dimensions of need-supportive practices are addressed, (b) more intervention and experimental studies are conducted, (c) more insight is gained into antecedents of teachers' behaviors, (d) a broader set of learning outcomes is investigated, and (e) relevant physical education-related contextual factors are taken into account. Given the increasing number of SDT studies in the context of physical education, this review recommends a better integration of pedagogical and psychological knowledge in future SDT-grounded work in the context of physical education. A better integration is needed because it can lead to ecologically valid and practical recommendations on how to enhance students' motivation taking into account the pedagogical context of physical education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-121
Number of pages25
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Issue number1
Early online date5 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • pedagogy
  • psychology
  • self-determination theory
  • motivation

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